Seven-mile oil spill fouls Delaware coastline

About 215 gallons of oil from an unknown source washed ashore at Broadkill Beach in Delaware Monday. Julie McCall was surveying Beach Plum Island when she saw blobs of oil. (Courtesy of Julie McCall)

About 215 gallons of oil from an unknown source washed ashore at Broadkill Beach in Delaware Monday. Julie McCall was surveying Beach Plum Island when she saw blobs of oil. (Courtesy of Julie McCall)

Julie McCall was walking along Beach Plum Island conducting a bird count on Monday when she made a disturbing discovery.

During what was supposed to be a routine surveying of a protected area of the beach that’s designated as a nature preserve, the Cape Henlopen park watch volunteer spotted patches of black blobs.

“On the way back, after the tide had gone out quite a bit, I started seeing these bigger patches, and I thought, ‘That looks like oil,’” McCall said. “Some were bigger than my foot.”

Then she saw a helicopter flying overhead and emergency vehicles.

Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control responded Monday to reports of an oil spill. An estimated 215 gallons, or 5 barrels, of oil from an unknown source washed ashore at Broadkill Beach.

About 215 gallons of oil from an unknown source washed ashore at Broadkill Beach in Delaware Monday. Julie McCall was surveying Beach Plum Island when she saw blobs of oil. (Courtesy of Julie McCall)

The spill spanned three-quarters of a mile of upper Delaware Bay coastline, but because of an outgoing tide Monday evening, the oil has migrated seven miles along the Delaware coast — affecting Beach Plum Island, the Roosevelt Inlet and Lewes.

“It’s very scary,” she said. The discovery was very disturbing for McCall who also does volunteer work with the Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute. “Of course, we’re always concerned about the marine animals, and any kind of toxic material in the water. I’m also concerned about birds, any kind of wildlife.”

“A lot of people fish at Beach Plum Island and people walk their dogs and there are kids on the beach. So I’m concerned about exposure to people and animals.”

So far, there have been no sightings of impacts to wildlife. DNREC and the U.S. Coast Guard are cleaning affected areas, which could take several days. Oil samples will be analyzed to determine its source. Officials believe the oil is heavy fuel oil that leaked from an operating vessel.

Residents of coastal communities are asked to contact DNREC’s environmental hotline (800-662-8802) to report any oil spotted either on- or offshore.

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